Route 66 can trace its history back to the late 1920s when it was first proposed and constructed. However, it was not until 1938 that the road was completely paved from the eastern start in Chicago, Illinois to the western terminus in Santa Monica, CA, some 2,450 miles later. Of course, the route can be taken east or west, although most Route 66 travelers prefer to go from east to west, just as the Joad family did in John Steinbeck’s famous literary work, The Grapes of Wrath.
Unfortunately, Route 66 was replaced in the 1960s by new interstate highways that bypassed many small towns along the way and was completely removed from the freeway system in 1985. But in part for many Route 66 organizations, small town chambers of commerce, enthusiasts and historians, many refused to let it die. In the past 25 years, there has been a new revival of heritage tourism that has sparked interest in preserving this great piece of Americana history and nostalgia that is Route 66.
Often referred to as “The Mother Road,” “America’s Main Street,” or “Will Rogers Highway,” the route passes through eight different states: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Let’s take a closer look at the state of Arizona.
To the west, Arizona is the 7th of the 8 Route 66 states and has 401 miles from border to border. It has some of the most beautiful scenery, some of the most unique must-see establishments, the highest point and the longest continuous stretch of Route 66 throughout the journey.
Geographically, Arizona is home to Meteor Crater, Petrified Forest, and Painted Desert. These locations provide some incredible photo opportunities, as well as an opportunity to explore and hike these natural attractions.
About 75 miles to Arizona, beyond both the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert, lies the town of Holbrook. Home to the Wigwam Village Motel, most Route 66 travelers look forward to sleeping in a teepee and many cite this landmark as a highlight of their trip. Further west is Joseph City, a Mormon establishment founded in the late 1870s. Located in Joseph City is the famous Jackrabbit Trading Post. One of Route 66’s most famous signature sites is the famous billboard that declares “HERE IT IS” at the Jackrabbit Trading Post.
Further west past the Meteor Crater and the towns “standin ‘on the corner” Winslow, the extinct Two Guns, the abandoned Twin Arrows and the “don’t forget” Winona lies the town of Flagstaff. Flagstaff is home to the famous Lowell Observatory and is also the gateway to the Grand Canyon, an hour’s drive north. The canyon is definitely worth a trip along Route 66 to see one of the eight natural wonders of the world. If you prefer, you can also access the spectacular Grand Canyon via the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, just 19 miles west of Flagstaff. Brannigan Peak is located between Flagstaff and Williams. At 7,320 feet above sea level, this is the highest point along the entire Rt route. 66.
24 kilometers west of Williams is Ash Fork, the flagstone capital of the world. Just past Ash Fork, you can say goodbye to I-40 as you begin the longest continuous stretch of Route 66 on the entire journey. Make sure to stop at the legendary Snow Cap Drive-in in Seligman and the fascinating Hackberry shop before arriving in Kingman. Here you will find many still preserved business establishments for the Route 66 traveler, including a very well done museum.
Make sure to leave Kingman while you still have daylight as you won’t miss the incredible scenery ahead as you drive through the Black Mountain twists and hairpins. Oatman is waiting, just like the many wild burros that call the old mining town home. Make sure to visit the historic Oatman hotel where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon.
Leaving Oatman, you can take a short trip to the Laughlin Nevada casinos and try your luck, or you can continue through Golden Shores, Topock and back on I-40 to cross the mighty Colorado River to California.